Catholic Bishops have been, from time to time, issuing a Pastoral Letter, often called simply a pastoral, which is an open letter addressed to the clergy and/or laity of a diocese, containing general admonitions, instructions, consolations or directions for behaviour in particular circumstances. Each letter would be read on a designated date in all churches across the diocese. One is curious to know as to why the Pope does not issue such letters, in spite of the fact that information technology has enabled us to download any letter issued by the Vatican, in any part of the world and to have read it out in churches on a designated date. In fact, such letters would go a long way in guiding the clergy and the faithful alike on different issues of importance.

My question therefore, is : Why does the Pope not issue letters on the lines of Pastorals to all churches across the globe?

  • 3
    Would something like Mit brennender Sorge not count? Or how do you distinguish between what you have in mind and an encyclical directed to the Church in one region of the world? Mar 9, 2020 at 10:08
  • 1
    Do Letters to Priests count? You should truly research your questions out before asking. Pope John Paul II wrote one every Holy Thursday to the clergy.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 9, 2020 at 10:48
  • Francis has written encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, and hundreds of letters. Each is addressed to different groups or persons. That said, the fact that he hasn't written more documents addressing the entire Church may be due to his focus on decentralization.
    – zippy2006
    Mar 12, 2020 at 5:00

1 Answer 1


Why does the Pope not issue letters on the lines of Pastorals?

Perhaps it does happen from time to time. However, when the pope or the Holy See are involved it takes on a much greater degree of seriousness or urgency. Since such documents come from the pope and the Vatican it would certainly carry a different name. One such occasion was the Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI On the Church and the German Reich: Mit brennender Sorge.

Written in German, Pope Pius XI, it was smuggled into Germany for fear of censorship and was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on one of the Church's busiest Sundays, Palm Sunday (21 March that year). Some pastors hid the encyclical inside the tabernacle, in order that the German authorities would not find it.

Mit brennender Sorge ("With burning concern") On the Church and the German Reich is an encyclical of Pope Pius XI, issued during the Nazi era on 10 March 1937 (but bearing a date of Passion Sunday, 14 March). Written in German, not the usual Latin, it was smuggled into Germany for fear of censorship and was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on one of the Church's busiest Sundays, Palm Sunday (21 March that year).

The encyclical condemned breaches of the 1933 Reichskonkordat agreement signed between the German Reich and the Holy See. It condemned "pantheistic confusion", "neopaganism", "the so-called myth of race and blood", and the idolizing of the State. It contained a vigorous defense of the Old Testament with the belief that it prepares the way for the New. The encyclical states that race is a fundamental value of the human community, which is necessary and honorable but condemns the exaltation of race, or the people, or the state, above their standard value to an idolatrous level. The encyclical declares "that man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect." National Socialism, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party are not named in the document. The term for the German government (Reichsregierung) is used.

The effort to produce and distribute over 300,000 copies of the letter was entirely secret, allowing priests across Germany to read the letter without interference. The Gestapo raided the churches the next day to confiscate all the copies they could find, and the presses that had printed the letter were closed. According to historian Ian Kershaw, an intensification of the general anti-church struggle began around April in response to the encyclical. Scholder wrote: "state officials and the Party reacted with anger and disapproval. Nevertheless the great reprisal that was feared did not come. The concordat remained in force and despite everything the intensification of the battle against the two churches which then began remained within ordinary limits." The regime further constrained the actions of the Church and harassed monks with staged prosecutions. Though Hitler is not named in the encyclical, it does refer to a "mad prophet" that some claim refers to Hitler himself.

The actual encyclical can be read here.

More closer to our own day and age, Pope John Paul II called the Great, wrote a number of pastoral letters. For example, his Letters to Priests were published every Holy Thursday for all priests throughout the world.

Pastoral letters (Wikipedia)

  • Letter to Children, 1994

  • Letter to Families (Gratissima Sane), 1994

  • Letter to Priests, 1994

  • Letter to the Secretary General of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994

  • Letter to Women, 1995.

  • Link to other letters on the Vatican website.

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